Wednesday, September 05, 2018


My first time in Grand Central Station. Looking down while Roberto looks up through the lens.

Several weeks ago Roberto and I went to New York to visit my cousin Anders. While there we went to this shop called, well, SHOP, a hyper-colorful, heavily curated concept store that changes its theme every season. Full of clever gift items, there was also the occasional show stopper, like the giant unicorn pool floatie that was in the middle of the space when we visited (the theme was Out of Office, an ode to endless lazy vacation days).

Anyhow, while at SHOP Anders bought a pack of cards that is supposed to generate ideas for small talk, improving your conversational skills, or simply getting to know people better. Later that evening we pulled random cards from the deck over a midnight snack of leftover donuts. Some of the prompts were pretty predictable (What did you want to be when you were a kid?) some were amusing (What's a guilty pleasure?) others were deep (Do you value mercy or justice more?) and a couple were downright cringe-worthy (What relative do you like the least?).

One of the cards I found strangely difficult to answer was "What circumstances make you shy?"

My initial reaction was silence, because I'm not at all a shy person and it took me multiple minutes of thinking to even come up with some candidate scenarios...and even then, not really! Like I am reluctant to ask strangers for directions when I'm lost because I don't want people to know that I'm disoriented or not "from" a particular place. I'm reluctant to interact because the information I'd share makes me feel vulnerable, not because I'm timid about the approach. The other scenarios I came up with were also one-off from shyness, like not wanting to talk about certain accomplishments (modesty), occasionally being quiet at dinner parties (paranoid about being a motor mouth), or back in the day deciding not to get gelato because I didn't know the words in Italian for 'scoop' and 'cone' and the embarrassment I was sure to suffer because of that was greater than my desire for ice cream (stupidity - now I get gelato despite any linguistic limitations).

My friend Hilary is perhaps the most shy person I know. We were in jewelry school together and bonded over a mutual love of running. We've been meeting for weekly runs for over 6 years now, and the funny thing is that while we run we talk nonstop - both of us! There's nothing like chatting to make the time and the miles fly by, especially when training for long distances. I believe that being side-by-side while we run (as opposed to face-to-face) takes the pressure off and makes it easier for a shy person to chat. In my case it makes me talk less because Hilary is in better shape than I am and so I reach a point of huffing and puffing and not being able to hold a conversation much faster than she does, so it's a good balance!

What made me think of shyness was the realization that the place I quiet my voice the most these days is here, on my blog. Sometimes I long to write and will spend hours composing in my head and feeling the itch to get my fingers on the keyboard, and yet I hold back. It's not writer's block - the instant I sit down the words pour out. Rather it's censorship, fear of oversharing, a questioning whether my current stories truly belong in this place so rooted in the past or whether I need to find a new home. I miss writing, be it about unremarkable daily routines or major stuff like marriage, miscarriage, and how to crack the code of living 6 months in California and 6 months in Italy (current conundrum). I know the way forward is to keep writing, be it here, in a private diary, on scraps of paper, whatever. Doubts about where to write shouldn't be an impediment to writing. So here I am, despite my shyness, showing up to say hello.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Catching Feelings

I just watched the South African film "Catching Feelings" by director-actor Kagiso Lediga. It came up as a suggestion on Netflix and I jumped on it. The cinematography left me with massive nostalgia for Johannesburg: the jacaranda-lined streets, the gray skies, the unique vibe, and oh that accent...I so miss that accent! But it wasn't all purple blossoms and good times: there was also realistic portrayal of the challenges in urban South Africa: drunk driving, bribing police, fenced and guarded homes and accompanying race-based fear, immediate discrimination of the main character by both whites and blacks when he loses his shoes and appears poor and possibly homeless, shantytown tourism by wealthy white foreigners, sexism, cell phone addiction, and in general lots of moral ambiguity.

I found it interesting that there was a distinction between Cape Town's racial situation (the only black people in a hip, upscale restaurant are the main character's party and the waiters; the student body at the university is majority white) and that of Joburg (portrayal of many middle and upper-middle class blacks with prominent positions in companies and academic institutions; nice restaurants and social events with racially diverse patrons; mixed race couples and friends groups; university student body majority black).

Although the movie is about an unhappy marriage and the moral boundaries of the main couple and their friends, the subtext is all about identity and racial politics (to paraphrase the main character, "I'm South African, everything is about race"). I appreciated that the film's perspective was not Eurocentric, and as an American I was interested in the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between our racial issues and those in South Africa. While I really enjoyed the film overall, I found the characters to be over-acted and many of the scenarios unbelievable, in particular the white "old man" author and how readily he is able to influence the main character and his wife, and how he is invited into their home. White privilege was brought up in the film but not explored very much, and I found it of note that colorism was not discussed at all (although it was most definitely present). Also how about those double standards regarding cheating for the main character and his wife?? And actually for the men in general? Ugh.

The role of alcohol and drugs in the film also struck me. The movie is basically about moral choices and behavioral gray area, and in 100% of the moments where characters make a critical move, they are massively drunk or high. It was frustrating to watch seemingly intelligent, educated, cultured, and independent characters lose all their willpower and convictions anytime alcohol is offered. Again, like the white privilege issue, there was a moment where the partying was scrutinized (Is this a problem? Do I need to be worried about you?), but instead of further exploring it, the questioner just jumped on the bandwagon and went bottoms up herself.

I guess I have a lot of critical points, and the movie definitely left me with a lot of food for thought. Overall, I definitely recommend it and am happy I took a chance on a random Netflix suggestion.

A final note is that the soundtrack to Catching Feelings was excellent. Tracks are listed below:

Chimanga – Dorothy Masuka
Let Me Live – Mpho Pholo & Moneoa Moshesh
Lenyora – Philip Tabane
Mama Liza – The Movers
Ngud (Ilala Vuka) – Kwesta featuring Casper Nyovest
Mahlalela (A.K.A Lazy Bones) by Letta Mbulu
Noma Themba – Letta Mbulu
Voice Inside – Lerato Moiloa
Joburg Girl – MXO
Ngubani Gama Lakho – MXO
Jungle Fever – MXO
Bring Back the Love – MXO
iZolo – MXO
Soweto Disco – The Movers
Why are you here – Ishmael Osekre
UNH! – Philip Tabane
Vidala Para Mi Sombra – Juana Pires Rafael and Ariel Zamonsky
100KMACASETTE by Okmalumkoolkat
Monsieur Bon Bon – Ebenhaezer Dibakwane
Mpahlenkulu – Mabiza and Zah
I Need You – David Kibuuka

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Belated Mom Love

A bit late, but better than never! Happy belated birthday to my Mama, and Happy Mother's Day as well. We had a great time celebrating her bday at a local nursery called Annie's Annuals. It's a literal oasis tucked away in an industrial and somewhat blighted corner of North Richmond. So many lush and unusual plants and flowers, truly a delight for the senses. My mom, who is a master gardener, was in heaven. Roberto and I were very inspired too.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Three

Sunset from Hawaii's Big Island, understanding what this next phase is all about.

If moving to Mozambique was Book One, moving to California and starting art school was Book Two, then this is Book Three. I am still based in the Bay Area but the cast of characters is significantly different, as is my perspective. I feel deeply moved to write these days, but found myself questioning whether it was right to continue blogging here, in this space that is all about homes I no longer live in, a career I no longer have, and a man I am no longer married to.

Despite all that has changed, this is still the place where I feel the most comfortable sharing, documenting, and processing my life. I remind myself there is no "wrong" in continuing to write my own story, even if the space is imbued in memories of Books One and Two. What a blessing, really, to have this record to look back upon.

Thirteen years have gone by since I started this blog on a rainy evening in Austin. I am now 36, working as an artist and translator, married to a soulful Brazilian cinematographer named Roberto. We met in San Francisco through a mutual friend, a beautiful story for another day. We live in a light-filled apartment about 10 minutes away from my mom's house. My days are spent making jewelry and painting in my studio, interpreting in hospitals and at welfare appointments, and translating technical documents. Roberto spends his time going to ESL school and working on various film and video projects. Life is good.

At some point I'll share some photos, perhaps from our wedding at City Hall, or from recent travel to Hawaii, New Mexico, and Italy/Slovenia. And I'll share stories. There are SO many stories from the last two years that I want to get out before the details dull. But for now, a small synopsis of Book Three thus far:

  • I healed my heart from the end of a marriage, relationship, partnership, and friendship
  • I lived with my mom for 1.5 years for the first time since I was 15
  • I started working as an interpreter
  • I reconnected with my roots in the Italy/Slovenia border region
  • I opened myself to finding love again, and did!
  • I lived in San Francisco for 6 months with Roberto in a shared apartment in the very foggy Outer Richmond neighborhood, and eventually rented a place of our own in the East Bay. 
  • I realized that I want to be a mother. 
  • We got pregnant!!
  • We found out at 13 weeks that our baby had Turner's Syndrome and the pregnancy was not viable.
  • We lost the baby at 14 weeks.
  • We got married!! (Very strange to be celebrating and grieving at the same time).
  • I have a new name - Ali Ambrosio!!
  • My dad was diagnosed with cancer (again) and had major surgery. Thankfully he's now recovering.
  • Roberto had a heart attack (he is 40 and otherwise healthy) and we discovered he has several congenital heart defects. So so so grateful he received treatment and is now seemingly okay.
  • Contemplated moving to the Big Island of Hawaii (the tropics were calling big time, but we realized our destiny is elsewhere)
  • Currently figuring out how to make life work in the Bay Area, with a medium-term plan to spend half our time in Italy/Slovenia.
So far Book Three has been dizzyingly intense. You can understand why I need to write again. Looking forward to sharing here frequently, I've missed blogging and missed interacting with you, my lovely readers, if any of you are still out there after all this time. :)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tractors and Translating and Tanzanite

My life right now! I am working on a custom tanzanite and white gold ring for a client-friend. It is a piece for her daughter, using a stone bought when my client was in Tanzania a decade ago, a gift to commemorate her daughter graduating high school and celebrating a birthday.

It's been a massively challenging piece to make. Lots of very small scale complex curves. It's hard to make thick wire do what you want it to when you are working tiny. You need lots of leverage. Also rectangular stones are by far the hardest to set in my opinion. So much precision. So much laser-focus measuring and cutting. And the soldering setup. OH, the soldering setup is so hard. But it is a wonderful way to continue developing my skills. Nothing like a project that twists your brain and challenges your endurance and ingenuity. It's nearly done. Yay.

When I'm not in the studio, I'm working as an in-person Portuguese interpreter here in the Bay Area. Mostly it's accompanying families on their children's medical appointments (well-child visits, cardiologist, dermatologist, endocrinologist, etc) but this last week I interpreted at a special needs school for 8 different people (school principal, student's father, teachers, county mental health representatives, occupational therapist) as they went over the student's annual progress, academic performance, behavioral issues, and goals for the next year. It was intense and high-level interpreting, as people were presenting formal reports and recommendations. All my experience writing business plans and donor reports was useful, as there is a similar vocabulary to talk about goals, recommendations, and evaluations across sectors.

Also in a throwback to Mozambique, I am doing written translations for an agricultural project in the Northern part of the country. I'm grateful that while translating on-the-ground in Moz, I took the time to put together a vocabulary dictionary with regional specifics and reminders to myself of particularly hard-to-translate expressions. I'm definitely using that to remember the local terms for things like "weeding," "mechanized land preparation," and "demand," all the while learning new things about field preparation and the benefits of using tractors and disking and improved seeds. Very interesting, and thankfully so far the source texts have been very well-written, which makes translating so much smoother!

Ok. Back to work. Time to set the tanzanite.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Cali Home

About two weeks ago I moved out of my mom's house (temporary home base for the last 18 months) and into a new apartment with my partner. I'm so relieved to have found a place that is safe, decent, near public transportation, and - major bonus - full of natural light and high ceilings. Truly a gem in the middle of a lot of crappy options. I am still pinching myself that 1) this place exists, and 2) we got it!!!

The housing situation in the Bay Area is competitive, restrictive, and depressing to say the least. It is SO EXPENSIVE and honestly what you get for your money is pitiful in most cases. Here's a sampling of some of the places we looked at in our search:

Apartment 1: Located in the Outer Richmond in San Francisco (read: cold and foggy and not on the BART line, so one of the more "affordable" places in the city). $2,200/month for a studio consisting of a converted garage with one tiny window, a tiny bathroom, a double burner hotplate and a mini-fridge "kitchen", and a murphy bed that pulled down from the wall. Nope!

Apartment 2: Located one block away from Lake Merritt in Oakland, seemingly a great spot but this is an area where the neighborhood can vary vastly from one corner to the next. This was on one bad corner that's for sure! I understand why there were no photos of the outside of the place on Craigslist. As we approached there was a lady in panties and a fishnet top with her boobs hanging out walking into the liquor store on the bottom floor of the building. Across the street was a parking lot full of dudes loitering and heaps of trash. After a few minutes the lady came out of the liquor store and plopped down on her mattress on the opposite corner of the street, put on some headphones, and started smoking a joint. Next to the liquor store was an establishment that was operational, had a street number, but all the windows were blacked out and there was no identifying sign of what was going on in there. Not good. The inside of the unit had been completely remodeled and that, plus the fact that my partner's school is nearby and I often run at the lake, is what had attracted us initially. We never even made it inside, sending a polite email to the listing agent saying it just wasn't the right spot for us. Cost? $2,000/month for a 2 bedroom (600 square feet). Right...

Apartment 3: Located in El Cerrito, adjacent to highway 80. $1,950/month for a 2 bedroom plus one month free rent if you signed a 16-month lease. Totally new interior, new appliances, looked really lovely...but surely there must be a catch at that price, and why on earth would anybody offer a signing bonus here in the landlord's paradise?? Sure, the place was right next to the freeway's sound barrier wall, and the neighborhood was older and pretty humble, but what could be the issue? All the bars on the windows of every house around? Maybe... The neighbor's yard full of pit bulls and rottweilers and neglected looking poodles, all on short chains, aggressively barking nonstop? Who knows. There were about 8 other couples waiting to see the place, and for us the paranoia that something was fundamentally wrong to offer the place at that price was too much. Next!

Thankfully, by some great Craigslist miracle, we stumbled across our current place and managed to make a deposit and get in an application before they could show it to anyone else. You have to act fast here, that's for sure. I feel much like I did back in Maputo, where we had an excellent apartment at a price that we were afraid to disclose less someone show up at the landlord's door and make a higher offer. At least here in California there are binding leases and what not, although I shudder to think what will happen when it comes time to renew and most certainly the amount will be adjusted up according to "current market value".

There's a high price to pay to live in the Bay Area, and it's only getting harder. I've definitely thought about moving somewhere else over the last 18 months, and even did some (fruitless) job applications in places as diverse as Houston, Chicago, and Washington DC. But seemingly it's in the cards to be here for the near future, which makes me happy, as this Cali life is pretty incredible and I'm excited for this new chapter to kick off in our new apartment.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

More Endings and More Beginnings

It's been a year since I last wrote here. Often I've had the urge to come back and chronicle what's been going on in my life, but while this is my favorite space for writing, it also felt strange. Outdated. Too connected with people and places who are no longer in my life and, honestly, a reflection of a self that I no longer am. I suppose that's inevitable when you blog for over a decade, but my goodness the changes have been massive. New continent, new school, new profession, divorce, passing of loved ones, new relationships, new homes, new beginnings. It's been so much.

For a while I was decided that I would start a new blog for this new chapter, but I never found a format or space or whatever that seemed right. I like writing here, and I like all of you who follow(ed) me here, and so I've come to peace with the idea that yes, my past is present, but my present can be as well. 

So where to start? This time last year I'd just come back from a month of traveling. Geographic distance from Casa Cali, as well as the constant stimulus of new landscapes and languages and people, allowed me to feel like my old self again. The traveler, nomad, extrovert, adventurer. It also helped me begin to glimpse my new self, who I would become after all the transitioning, questioning, grief and growth.

Back in the Bay Area, life delivered up one of those sublime coincidences (that aren't coincidences at all, really) and I met a very lovely person who has become my partner in life and in love. I certainly wasn't "looking," but when you find treasure you most absolutely open your heart and say yes. I would like to write volumes about this person, about our adventures and insights together, but I must say that I have come to value privacy immensely and so choose not to. But know that I'm happy and, true to my Libra nature, am in a pair and feel at balance.

Over the past year I have really reconnected with my roots on my mom's side, and spent a lot of time along the Italy-Slovenia border where my family has had a home for centuries. I recovered my ability to speak Italian (it's full of mistakes but I don't really care, I'm just happy that it's present and functional!). I made many local friends and danced salsa and kizomba till the wee hours (funny how there's such a passion for Latin/African dances in that part of the world). Together with friends and family, we did a bunch of work on the house my grandmother used to live in, trying to get it fixed up and ready for who-knows-what next incarnation. Retreats, a place for wellness and healing, wine tourism...there are so many attributes and possibilities. But for now, as they say in Italian, piano, piano. Take it slow. For a while there many people were asking if I'd moved to Italy. It was/is definitely in my mind, but I'm letting life lead me there at its own pace. Although I am applying for Italian citizenship - it will take two years, and just getting together the necessary documents has been a fascinating process. Stories for another day, however...

Last month I was back in Italy and we had a memorial ceremony for my grandmother, who passed away last year in California. It was quite the event. My family was there from the US, the whole village turned up, we had two choirs sing, and everyone came to the house afterwards for prosciutto and pastries and wine. Truly the closing of one gigantic chapter and the opening of the next. I want to write about the whole funeral organizing experience, as it was priceless. Talking in limited Italian about opening graves and preparing floral wreaths, and trying to figure out catering, and getting the priest booked, etc. etc. etc. Truly memorable, I swear many of the people and situations seemed straight out of a film. Too good (and sometimes too bad!) to be true.

Now back in California I continue to make jewelry, my focus these days is on heirloom redesign and memory projects. I've also been working as a medical interpreter (Portuguese and Spanish), which is interesting and a good counterpart to my studio practice. Always the Jill of a thousand trades it seems. :)

I suppose what really moved me to write here again is the sad news that Pria passed away three days ago (the cats are still at Casa Cali with Ricardo and his new wife). I got the call that Pria had collapsed and was at the emergency vet, and that it didn't look good. Apparently he had cancer all throughout his body. I'm grateful that he didn't suffer long, and I know he was in good care. Still it is so incredibly sad. I feel lucky that my last memories of Pria are of days when he was happy and heathy and purring in my lap. I miss him. I'd been missing him all year. Losing our animal companions is terrible, but boy did he give us years of funny stories and fond memories. I hope he's living it up on the other side of the rainbow bridge with his brother, Parceiro.